FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

Hunger on the rise in Latin America and the Caribbean: 42,5 undernourished, says FAO

Undernourishment increased by 2,4 million people from 2015 to 2016, while remaining low compared to other world regions.

Hunger now affects 6,6 percent of the regional population.

September 15, 2017, Santiago, Chile - The number of people suffering from hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean increased by 2,4 million from 2015 to 2016, reaching a total of 42,5 million, according to a new United Nations report, the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017.

“Hunger is rising in Latin America and the Caribbean for the first time in the last generation. This is unacceptable and all Latin Americans and Caribbeans should feel personally offended by this setback. We cannot take a step back, putting at risk the health, well-being or even the lives of thousands of people,” according to Julio Berdegué, the Regional Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The new data set shows that hunger in 2013 affected 39,1 million people (6,3 percent of the regional population), rising to 40,1 million in 2015 (6,3 percent) and reaching 42,5 million in 2016, 6,6 percent of the regional population.

The report notes that the prevalence of undernourishment worldwide increased to 11 percent in 2016, which means that 815 million people are suffering from hunger. The increase occurred throughout most regions of the world, with the biggest setbacks in parts of Africa and Asia.

While hunger levels remain low in Latin America and the Caribbean compared to the rest of the developing world, there are clear signs that the situation is deteriorating.

The setback was particularly strong in South America, where hunger increased from 5 percent in 2015 to 5,6 percent in 2016, which accounts for most of regional increase.

Although hunger did not grow in the Caribbean, it still has the highest prevalence of hunger in the region: 17,7 percent.

“Latin America and the Caribbean used to be a worldwide example in the fight against hunger. We are now following the worrisome global trend”, said Berdegué.

This year's report is a joint publication by FAO, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Health Food (WFP).

Economic slowdown hits the region

According to FAO’s Regional Representative, the region's economic slowdown, as a result of falling prices of the commodity exported by the region and the global economic contraction, has impacted food security in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“A shrinking regional economy impacts people’s employment and income. In addition, it affects tax revenues, with consequent adjustments that reduce the governments’ ability to maintain the social protection systems that support those who are poor or vulnerable”, explained Berdegué.

Rising food prices could also be a factor behind the observed trends, said Berdegué

Prolonged conflicts are one of the main causes of hunger highlighted by the report. Globally, 19 countries face protracted crises and more than half of those who suffer hunger - 489 million - live in countries affected by conflicts.

Childhood stunting levels improve throughout the region

There is also good news in the report: between 2005 and 2016, most regions of the world Reduced childhood stunting levels (low height for age), with the greatest progress seen in Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean.

At the regional level, childhood stunting fell from 15,7 percent in 2005 to 11 percent in 2016. This important progress was observed in all subregions in the same period: in Central America stunting fell from 21,9 to 15,4 percent; in South America it dropped from 13,5 to 9,5 percent; while in the Caribbean, it declined from 8,6 percent to 5,3 percent.

“This is a great sign amidst a negative overall situation. It is likely that public policies aimed at supporting the young explain this good result, such as school feeding programs and the expansion in many countries of the coverage of child-care systems”, said Berdegué.

However, it is important to note that rates of wasting (low weight for height) remain excessively high in some regions of the world. In contrast, they are very low in Latin America and the Caribbean: only 1,3 percent of boys and girls under five years suffered wasting in 2016.

This figure is slightly higher in the Caribbean (3 percent), but lower than the regional average in Central America (0,9 percent), while in South America the rate is 1,3 percent.

One in four adults is obese in the region

According to the report, the global prevalence of obesity has more than doubled between 1980 and 2014. By 2014, more than 600 million adults were obese, roughly 13 percent of the world's adult population.

The problem is most severe in North America, Europe and Oceania, where 28 percent of adults are obese, while in Latin America and the Caribbean, about a quarter of the current adult population is considered obese.

In our region, the rate of overweight children under 5 years old increased from 6,8 percent in 2005 to 7 percent in 2016, a rate that exceeds that of Asia, Africa and the world’s average (6 percent).

“Along with rising hunger, Latin America and the Caribbean is experiencing a very serious epidemic of overweight and obesity. The regional trend is simply shameful, especially with regard to children under five, whose development and future is being eroded by poor nutrition,” said Berdegué.

Berdegué called for the region to address all forms of malnutrition by promoting healthy food systems that place stronger focus on the poor, who already spend most of their income on food, and have great difficulty accessing healthy and nutritious food.